The Santa Fe Trail to the Grand Canyon
By Sherry Jarvis
When we started driving Joan asked, “I wonder if we will still be friends after being together 24/7 for the next week. I reassured her that nothing was going to ruin this trip or our friendship. As we drove 700 miles the first day, I think we told each other our whole life histories. If we didn’t know each other’s deep secrets before, we do now.
We stopped in Limon, CO to fuel up and make some peanut butter sandwiches. We were swarmed with flies. My car was immediately filled with hundreds of flies. Peanut butter with choke cherry jelly must be a delicacy in CO. So as we left Limon we drove clear to Rocky Ford with the windows down trying to chase flies out of the car. We finally gave up and bought some insect spray at La Juanta. We had a good laugh about the flies. We never had that problem again while fixing sandwiches out of the back of the car.
We stayed in Las Vegas, NM the first night. Then we played tourist the second day, visiting the Montezuma Castle near Las Vegas,NM; Old Town Santa Fe where we shopped until we nearly dropped; the Loretto Chapel with the spiral staircase; and we rode the Sandia Peak Sky Tram near Albuquerque.
We ended up driving through Albuquerque in 5:00 rush hour traffic. Being a country girl all of my life, I am not the greatest city driver, oh heck lets tell the truth, it scares the pants off me. In fact I was petrified. This was definitely the scariest part of the whole trip. The mules, cliffs, and suspension bridge were a piece of cake, because I trusted my mule Maude 100%. However, I did not trust the crazy drivers all around me, causing me to freak out. My knuckles were white from squeezing the steering wheel. Joan kept telling me to calm down. It didn’t work. I was like a wild-eyed horse in survival mode.
We got a little turned around, not lost mind you. I knew we had to head west. That is what I hate about city driving, you know you have to go west, but you can’t get there from here. So we stopped at a gas station to ask for directions. I was a little right-brained at this point. When I told the cashier who was trying to explain to us how to get back on the interstate about my west theory; “just follow the sun.” She said, “Aren’t you Mrs. Crocodile Dundee . Then she asked us if we were on a road trip. When we told her where we were going, she asked us if we were Thelma and Louise. We had a good laugh which calmed me down and it wasn’t too difficult to find our way out of Albuquerque because she gave us good directions.
It was late by the time we found a motel in Gallup, NM. I won’t bore you with all the details of our tourist stories because I am sure you are anxious to hear about the actual mule ride. When we called my husband at 10:00 pm and told him we were in Gallup he said, “Is that all the further you got today?”. I thought we did pretty good going 275 miles considering how many times we stopped. We had about the same distance to travel the next day to get to Grand Canyon Village, AZ. So we spent plenty of time stopping at all the native America road side shops along the way. However when we left Gallup that morning my check engine light came on in my car not far down the road. My cruise control also quit working. So we made an illegal turn on the interstate and headed back to Gallup, where we found a service station with a really nice man who fixed the car for only $25. We gave him a nice tip and got back on the road again, praising God all the way. My car ran fine the rest of the trip.
As we arrived in Flagstaff it was raining and the sky was looking pretty dark and dreary toward the Grand Canyon with lightning flashes in the sky. Joan was so worried that the ride would get canceled because of washed out trails after we drove all that way. But I kept reminding her we have a divine appointment. In fact when we rode back up Kaibob trail on Sunday morning, the mule ride down Bright Angel trail was canceled because or washed out trails. God timed our trip with ultimate perfection. It wasn’t too hot with the cloud cover and it rained just enough to settle the dust on the trails.
As we entered the park on Friday afternoon our anxiety heightened when we asked the ticket agent at the gate if the mule rides were still on for tomorrow she said something like “I hope not!” I about flipped when she said that. But I remained calm and positive telling her that was the only reason we came to the park. She said there are a lot of better things to do. She obviously did not know who she was talking to. She was talking to two die-hard cowgirls who were determined to ride a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, rain or shine. I guess she isn’t a mule lover or rider like we are. She said she would never ride a mule. Poor woman, she doesn’t know what she is missing. I think there are two kinds of people those who love to ride and those who don’t.
As we were driving through the park trying to find Bright Angel Lodge we had to stop to ask for directions because the lady at the gate who didn’t like mules gave us terrible directions and for some reason my great navigator Joan couldn’t figure out the map the woman gave us. It was terrible. But the cool thing is we saw a great big bull elk while trying to find our way. Joan had really wanted to see one. But because of traffic behind us, we didn’t get a picture of him.
When we finally got to Bright Angle Lodge we found a good parking place that we later discovered was right close to our cabin. It could not have been more convenient. I had been to the Grand Canyon back in 1981, I can tell you it was a lot quieter then. Today there are big tour buses everywhere and boy did the exhaust systems stink up the place. I am sure there were more people around that did not speak English fluently than those who did. It was very crowded. I am not into crowds, which is why this is my first vacation in 18 years. And in fact only the third real vacation in my life. My last one was moose hunting and salmon fishing in Alaska on the Kenai peninsula. I was there the whole month of October, not exactly tourist season so there were no crowds. It was perfect.
We went straight to the desk to check in and then to the travel center where we got our orientation for the mule ride. We had the two men behind the desk in stitches. We were so excited we couldn’t quit making wise cracks. They gave us our canteens and yellow rain slickers that said “Mule rider”. They gave us a clear plastic bag about 12×18 inches that did not stretch at all. We were instructed to put everything we wanted to take with us on the trip in that bag. We had to do a little paring down that night as we packed for the overnight trip. After they weighed us to make sure we were under 200 lbs we signed our liability waivers. Now we were official. It was getting close and the suspense was building. I wanted to go find the mules, but Joan thought it would be good to get our bags to our room. So we did.
We stayed in Buckey O’Neil’s Cabin, Grand Canyons oldest surviving historic structure built-in the early 1890’s. It was the cutest room we had the whole trip. We loved it. After putting our luggage in our room we packed our clear plastic bags for the trip. There was a lot of discussion that went something like this: Do you think we will need a jacket? What about our swim suits or a pair of sandals so we don’t have to wear our boots with a swim suit? I decided on a light denim jacket and to wear my boots with my swim suit. Another peanut butter and choke cherry jelly sandwich and we left our room to walk around looking at the canyon and soveinere shops. Joan bought a really cool book called “The Grandest Ride”. We both bought mule T-shirts. I also got mule socks and a mule ball cap. That was the extent of our purchases we were just there for the mule ride.
As we were looking over the edge of the canyon we were trying to figure out which trail we would be riding. We found where the mule ride begins, but no mules. I hiked down the trail we would be riding in the morning. When I got back I told Joan, “Piece of cake, it isn’t that steep, it is like a highway.” She said I’ll reserve my opinion on that until I am actually riding on it.
After taking some pictures and calling our husbands and my parents we went back to the room as it was getting dark. We each enjoyed a nice hot bath in our neat old cast iron claw foot deep bathtub. I soaked until I was a prune. How were we going to sleep? We were so excited. We knew we needed to get some shut-eye because had to get up early. We were to meet for the ride at 6:30 am. The Grandest ride of all. Joan was worried that it wouldn’t live up to her expectations, but it was way more than we could have ever imagined.
The ability to face the future with confidence. For believers this is possible because of their knowledge of God.
To be continued…….